Revisiting the Justification for Invading Iraq

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One Hand Clapping has one of the best summaries of the reasons for invading Iraq and deposing Saddam Hussein that I've seen in a long time. There's so much that too many people seem to have forgotten, and almost every sentence in the post is a fairly agreed-upon fact by those who pay attention to details and don't just spout off unsupported one-liners that contradict the truth. There are still philosophical debates about what you should conclude about the right response to some of this, but any decent attack on the reasons for invading Iraq must admit most of what this post says. I'd even forgotten some of this stuff myself. It seems to me that the reasons have become even more clear over time, with new discoveries supporting Bush's decision rather than undermining it as many people are claiming. If you don't agree, at least make sure your reasons have what he says in mind. As I repeatedly tell my students, no argument is as good as it can be unless it shows an awareness of what the opposing side has to say, and most arguments against the war are shockingly unaware of much of what this post reminds us of. Here are some of the more important points:

1. Iraq did have WMD programs, and the United Nations has confirmed this. There's strong evidence that some of what these programs produced got hidden or dismantled and sent out of the country before U.S. soldiers could get to them. This summer's findings make this even more clear, not that these are getting reported. Bush's speeches, from as early as September 2002, did not claim that Saddam had large stockpiles of WMD. He emphasized stopping him as he was exploring and taking steps toward gaining them before he could do so. He may have believed there to be large stockpiles, but he himself didn't make the argument on that basis.

2. Iraq was seeking to get yellowcake uranium from Niger, and the intelligence on this that the British had was indeed good intelligence. We were lied to and otherwise misled about this by people who hate Bush.

3. U.N. resolutions required Iraq to rid itself of WMD and not seek more. After Saddam Hussein seemed to be complying on and off, he entered a mode of complete resistance to the U.N. on this issue, and President Clinton wrote some very strong comments advocating doing exactly what we did if things didn't change on the grounds of a 1991 resolution. They did change for a while, but they reverted again during Bush's presidency, and the same issue arose once again.

4. All the major countries of NATO, and many others in the U.N., knew that Saddam Hussein had restarted his WMD programs and believed that his progress was further along than many of them now think they turned out to be. This was not a U.S. intelligence problem, and the existence of any intelligence errors does not disprove the fact that he had the programs (with progress enough to have some WMD) and had made numerous threats against the U.S.

5. Bush's WMD argument was that we must anticipate potential attacks before they become imminent, that we had no indication that Saddam Hussein was an imminent threat, but that he could become one without any warning. Once he reached the status of being able to attack imminently, you can't predict when it will be, and you can't wait until the attack begins to defend against it when the damage done would be something on the order of 9/11. This was a continuation of the policy of the previous administration, not a new "Bush doctrine", and it was based on the 1991 resolution that declared hostilies to be ended only due to Saddam's cooperation on disarmament issues.

6. Other issues were on Bush's list of reasons to invade Iraq as early as September 2002. These include:
a. long-range missiles (which were used on day 1 of the invasion)
b. support for terrorism (which was fairly well-known if not fully confirmed, regardless of the al Qaeda connection, which was determined to be at least and perhaps not more than a mere connection of communication)
c. persecution of ethnic and other groups not in power in Iraq
d. soldiers MIA since the 1990 conflict, stolen U.S. property from that conflict, both included in U.N. resolutions
e. illicit trade outside the oil-for-food program (this was before we knew about the illict trade within the oil-for-food program)
f. If Saddam could acquire enough of the weapons he was working on getting, he would have more ability to persecute the people within his own country and to throw his weight around in neighboring countries, as we already knew him to do in cases such as Kuwait in 1989.

Now some might not conclude from all these well-established facts that it's the right thing to do to invade. That's a debate to be had. What's interesting to me is that that's not where the debate has been. It's been focused on denying almost every single one of these points, and it's turned out that they've all been vindicated over time. I don't myself think the case for war needed all of them anyway, but I have seen good support for all of them. If the opposition has had to mislead and misrepresent both the facts about Saddam and the statements made by President Bush, then I don't see how they can have the moral standing to complain about his deceptions, even if there have been any. I'm not convinced that he's deliberately misled the American public about any of these issues. Nothing I've see has shown that he has, and those who insist that he has are therefore engaging in either wishful thinking or have some assumption that I see no reason to grant.


A lot of what Mr Parableman has to to say in this posting is at least misleading and is probably merely republican propaganda. For instance a US government investigation into the yellow cake purchase in Niger has concluded that it never happened and was based on faulty intelligence provided by the Brits. No links have ever been proven between Sadaam and Al Qaeda, they are natural enemies as Sadaam ran an ostensibly secular regime etc etc. Keep drinking the koolaid mr parableman. cheers. kev.

Kevin, it isn't that the yellowcake purchase actually happened. It's that Saddam Hussein was indeed pursuing it. That's been established by Joe Wilson himself. As for links between Saddam Hussein and al Qaeda, it's very clear from several published documents by bi-partisan commissions that they had contact with each other and had favorably discussed the possibility of working with each other, even if neither had seriously proposed any actual instance of working together. How you interpret those facts is up for debate. That they're facts is not.

You have a right to spread falsehoods, but the fact that you point to the conclusions of bi-partisan commissions as Republican propaganda isn't a good sign for the long-term success of your efforts. Name-calling instead of real fact-checking might win elections in the short-term, but it's not legitimate in a discussion with those who care about the truth.

Now I've read through the list again just to be sure, and as far as I can tell nothing has come out since I wrote the post to undermine in any serious way any of the factual claims I listed (although I think today I'd moderate my language quite a bit, particular anything involving the motivations of those spreading the misinformation, since telling something that is a lie doesn't mean you know it's a lie). I still stand by my claim that the debate has focused on denying those truths rather than debating whether those truths are enough to justify an invasion. I'd be happy to engage in the latter debate. The former debate would be silly unless there's something major that I've missed, and I've really paid attention.

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